The Surprise, Bombay, on the seventeenth of the month. Being a previously unpublished extract from Chapter Eight of HMS Surprise:
The god Neptune strode righteously along the quarterdeck, eight impeccably virtuous feet tall, blue eyes blazing like lightning bolts borrowed from Jove, lightning bolts about to strike down an offender against naval discipline, the custom of the sea, and punctuality. Behind him trailed Stourton, haplessly pulled along in his new captain's wake. The men and officers on deck drew back in embarrassed awareness, averting their eyes from the coming explosion. Babbington, himself bearing recent wounds from Jack Aubrey's majestic anger, held his breath and peered intently at the mizzentop, while Bonden's and Pullings' features presented a tender anguish scarcely credible in those stanch. weather-beaten men.
Stephen Maturin unsteadily mounted the ship's side to the larboard gangway, a small, grey figure, a lone ill-wrapped bundle clutched grimly beneath his left arm. Jack stared down from the break in the quarterdeck, his shadow a black pool about his feet. 'Doctor Maturin,' he began in a strong, flat voice, its chill more burning than the Bombay sun, but his tongue caught at sight of Stephen's face. Olympus diminished.
'Captain Aubrey. I must most sincerely apologize for my tardiness. I was detained, unavoidably detained. Unavoidably,' he repeated.
'Stephen, are you ill? Did ...' Jack had been about to speak Diana's name. 'Are you ill?' he repeated, shaken by the strain and bleak weariness in Maturin's eyes. Not even in the dreadful house in Port Mahon had Stephen seemed so nearly destroyed.
'Ill? No, I am not ill. It is no disease at all, except that inescapably born of life.'
'Stephen, please go below out of this infernal sun. Killick. Killick! Take the doctor's things below.' So taken aback was the steward at the pain marked through Maturin's whole being that he did so without a single murmur of his usual shrewish protests and complaint. Jack's gaze followed his friend's slow, mute progress down the ladder to the upper deck and into the dimness below. 'Mr. Pullings, we will make sail at once, away from this accursed place.' Stourton silently retreated to the leeward side of the quarterdeck, his captain blessedly moderated to a formidable but altogether human stature.
© 2004 Bruce Trinque